Troublemaking in Parenting

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A friend of mine just sent me this short article - Transparent - on gender "play" and the experience of parenting a child who does not conform to gender stereotypes. I was interested in the article at first because my mom is a child psychiatrist who has advised parents in similar situations, but I'm posting it here because the author, Susan David Bernstein, uses terms like "troublemaking" and "play" (for those familiar with that chapter from Lugones) in ways that clearly resonate with this class.

I know we had a lot of reading this week, but I'm curious what people think about the article, and the idea of "playful parenting" as a form of troublemaking. On the one hand, Bernstein seems like a great parent, allowing her daughter to explore gender in the way that she does; on the other hand, she also implies that her daughter - being as strong-willed as she is - might've acted the same way, regardless of parenting. It's also clear that Bernstein is in a privileged position, being a white academic in Wisconsin; she talks about "today's multiplication of options" for gender performance, but she might not perceive there to be so many options if she was living somewhere else.

Anyone have experiences with parents who encouraged you to make trouble? As a child, was anyone a troublemaker because of or in spite of their parents? 

Also, is there room for "playful parenting" in parts of the country (or in various communities of race, class, etc) where there might be more of a threat of backlash? What (perhaps subtler) forms would it take on?

2 Comments

Ooh, interesting. I was a pretty gender-traditional kid (yes, I liked My Little Ponies and I wouldn't wear anything not-pink for a few years), but my younger brother raised a few eyebrows for a couple of years when he developed a penchant for wearing my skirts. He liked to pull them up to his armpits and twirl around in them. . . my parents thought that was fine, but I later found out that a few other parents made some really harsh, critical comments.

Anyway, I read this and thought Bernstein's attitude seems really amazing in the way that she is concerned for her daughter but encourages her to do her own thing. And yet, as you mentioned, she is obviously in a privileged situation, and of course it's hard to know how much her parenting style has to do with her daughter's habits, but it can't hurt, right? I think Bernstein does a good job of admitting the latter, but she seems either to ignore or to be ignorant of the former. Then again, in an article like this, is that a big problem? She's not really making claims about how this situation might pan out for other people, after all.

this is a great thread and topic! i'd really like to explore this more academically in life myself. readings and papers maybe one day. at any rate for me its complicated.

i was totally a troublemaker growing up. very much a tom boy, i didnt wear shirts or girl clothes most of the time until i was 7 or 8, played in the garage, with boys toys most the time, etc. and it was little things like wanted the african american dolls not the caucasian dolls that caused serious trouble in my small rural community and extended family. my best friend growing up was a little black girl and her mom would braid my hair too and id go to church with them. this caused serious serious trouble with my grandmas and aunts and townfolk. my parents loved every minute of it and encouraged all my gender non conformity and racial boundary crossings. i was also always encouraged to express my opinion even if it was talking back. i wrote a letter to the editor of my hometown paper in third grade complaining about the christmas decorations our town put up before thanksgiving. as a very patriotic third grader i thought it was wrong that we were skipping over such an important holiday. lol. (oh dear)

but then something very interesting happened. middle school. basically the older i got the more i realized that my parents were both "troublemakers" in society and in my larger family to a much greater extent. i explain it now by saying i am the child of two black sheep. and how do you rebel against your parents if your parents are rebels? you become normative. so i got really into school. got great grades. didnt do drugs. was even awarded the student council president of the year for the state of missouri! my little brother turned crazy christian. we were the antithesis of our parents. because to make or be trouble in our context was to become "normal."

that lasted through middle school and maybe into freshman year. then i came out as a queer liberal buddhist in a straight conservative bible belt rural community. and since then, still now, i am constantly negotiating what "troublemaking" means to me as someone who is simultaneously a child of troublemaking parents, and someone to detests compulsory normativity.

all of this is to say, that i think being a troublemaking parent, or a troublemaking child is highly contextual, complicated, and complex. (of course). not only given social class, community, race, and religion, but also considering the parents themselves as people prior to and during parenthood. okay...enough :-)

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